The One World School House by Salman Khan
Salman Khan and his Khan Academy are well-known names in many spaces – education, online videos, investors, start-ups etc. I expected this book The One World School House to be a story of building up Khan Academy. A story of a startup that caught the attention of likes of Bill Gates. And a startup that is making an impact globally with its simple technology-based video lessons. The story does come across, but I was delighted to see the thought leader in Salman Khan coming out through the book. He comes across as someone who questions the status quo. And asks why things are the way they are? Do we have to continue with them, are they still relevant? He then goes and searches through the research done in this space. Some of which validates his questions and makes him think ahead.
The best part is that he does not stop here. He goes and experiments with what he thinks should be the new model for the current times. He then formulates his vision of how the education should be given to people around the world leveraging the omnipresent low-cost technology. Now the model that he suggests may look utopian. But like someone said if your idea does not sound crazy enough at first, it is not good enough.
In the first of its four sections, author talks about how he got into the online videos for education. Beginning with tutoring a cousin who needed help, and how this gave him an insight into the gaps of existing education model that is primarily one size fit all. He understood that each of us has our own pace of learning that is inherent to us. And at any given point in time our circumstances in life impact this pace of learning. The mass education model assumes that everyone learns at the same pace all the time. It also assumes that if a student knows 70-80% of the concept, he or she is ready to move on to the higher concepts. Which is flawed because you either understand the concept or you do not, how can you understand it partially? Yes, you can score partially based on guesswork or expected questions.
In the second section, he takes you through the history of education, as it exists today. The genesis of it in the objective to create clerks and not thinkers. He then goes onto explain how the current model of education is elitist. And how it hampers creativity. He questions the rationale behind tests and testing and brings out the flaws in it. Each of these claims is substantiated by the research that has already happened in this space.
In the third section, he brings in his own experiments in the field and online. And shares his insights from the process. He proposes to de-link education from age brackets. From following the established patterns and making it fun to learn. In the last section, he proposes a model for future education. And lists a few tenets that should drive the way education should be provided. This section sometimes sounds crazy, not so practical but then that is because we are all the product of the current education model. We immediately understand the flaws in the systems as we have experienced them first-hand. But since we have not experienced the proposed model first hand we need that time and space to understand it.
The insight that I loved the most from Khan’s various insights in this book is the concept of missing connections. We have compartmentalized subjects. And even created divisions within subjects to an extent that they seem to exist in isolation. While the truth is that all subjects are related to each other. In my belief, the learning of the coming times will have to move away from analysis and focus on the synthesis of data and concepts. I am happy that I found resonance in Salman’s insights. I believe and hope that he will become a leading light in the field of education. And be able to bring about this much-needed synthesis as part of new age education. We should be able to see the interconnections and interdependencies in basic concepts of science and art, in human relationships. And between just about everything that exists in the universe.
On a lighter note, it seems the education system in the USA is not very different than in India. The title of the book The One World School House is a bit of tongue twister; the simpler title like his videos and like his chapters in the book would have been easy. His unintended insights from the world of investment banking are hilarious and probably scary for those who use their services.
Read this book The One World School House if you are interested in the field of education, or if you track online ventures that are changing the rules of the games.